Defending champion was briefly on the wrong side of a peloton split in the closing kilometres.

Defending champion Niki Terpstra will wear the leader’s yellow jersey in tomorrow’s Tour of Qatar finale after surviving a late onslaught from Tinkoff-Saxo in this afternoon’s penultimate stage.

Terpstra (Etixx-Quick Step) was caught on the wrong side of an echelon when the peloton split with six kilometres of today’s stage remaining; his nearest GC challenger – Tinkoff rider Maciej Bodnar- was among those who made it into the short-lived 10-rider break.

However, Bodnar and his two Tinkoff-Saxo team-mates in the lead group did not realise Terpstra was dropped, and the two groups eventually came together in the final two kilometres, denying him the chance to overturn his six-second deficit.

“Well, I don’t think they helped me,” said Terpstra of Tinkoff’s mishap. “Of course I was worried, not only about Bodnar, but about a lot of riders who were up there in the general classification.

“We kept on chasing, and luckily we chased them down in the last kilometres.”

Bodnar first found out about the split when team owner Oleg Tinkoff, team manager Bjarne Riis and team-mate Michael Morkov spoke to him by the Tinkoff race vehicles after the stage.

“If we had radios here, I would have told the guys that Terpstra was gone,” said Riis. “But I’m happy with what I saw in the final kilometres.”

Polish rider Bodnar added: “I’m disappointed. Katusha pushed hard, we pushed hard and I didn’t know what was happening behind.

“We did our best and the team was so strong – I think we were better than Etixx today.”

Terpstra could make it nine wins out of the last 10 for Etixx in Qatar tomorrow, but his biggest challenger is arguably now Alexander Kristoff.

The Katusha rider won for the third time in four stages in Medinat Al Shamal today, and moved to within 11 seconds of the Dutchman.

A maximum of 16 seconds are on offer in time bonuses during tomorrow’s final stage from Sealine Beach Resort and the Doha Corniche.

“If Kristoff goes for the bonus seconds, I will try and beat him in the sprints,” said Terpstra. “But if he wins tomorrow, he’s probably the best rider here.”